Animals’ stress response evolved to help them prepare to face danger. However, this response often does more harm than good for domestic cats. Chronically elevated stress hormones can lead to a cat’s physical and behavioral disease manifestations, which can diminish their quality of life and degrade the pet-owner bond. 

Everyday events that roll off your back can cause your cat anxiety. Learn how to help your whiskered pal cope with anxiety and protect their long-term health by reading our Southern Arizona Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Center team’s guide to seven telltale feline stress signs. 

#1: My cat is urinating outside the litter box

Urinating outside the litter box is an extremely common feline stress sign, which can be behavioral, physical, or both. Stress, pain, or a frightening experience, such as bullying from another household pet, can cause a cat to stop using the litter box. Cats who urinate inappropriately often develop bladder inflammation or infections, which compound the problem.

#2: My cat is overgrooming 

Grooming and licking release a cat’s feel-good hormones, so they may use this as a self-soothing technique during stressful times. Eventually, constant licking and overgrooming can become obsessive or compulsive, causing bald spots or skin infections. Overgrooming can also be a sign of other underlying health issues.

#3: My cat is experiencing appetite and gastrointestinal changes

While physical problems and illness most often cause gastrointestinal (GI) problems, stress also frequently contributes to a cat’s appetite and digestive conditions. If your whiskered pal experiences intermittent, recurrent, or chronic diarrhea, or appetite changes, stress could be to blame.

#4: My cat is irritable

A cat who lives in a constantly stressed state is always on edge, and they can become easily irritated. Your constantly stressed feline friend may aggressively lash out at you and your family, and other household pets.

#5: My cat is scratching destructively

Scratching releases the same feel-good hormones as grooming, and the behavior also provides some physical benefits. Stressed cats may excessively and destructively scratch furniture, carpets, or other household objects.

#6: My cat’s behavior has changed

Depending on your whiskered pal’s personality, if they are stressed, they may seek comfort in human companionship, becoming clingy. However, some stressed cats socially withdraw, spending most of their time hiding. Vocalizing more or in different ways can also indicate your feline friend feels stressed.

#7: My cat has been having recurring upper respiratory infections

Nearly all cats are exposed to the feline herpes virus (FHV-1) at some point in early life. The virus causes short-term upper respiratory and eye problems, then retreats to the affected cat’s nervous system. During stressful times, FHV-1 can reactivate, causing your whiskered pal to experience upper respiratory infection signs without having interacted with other cats. Chronic stress can depress the immune system and lead to more frequent respiratory problems or other infections.

What is causing my cat’s stress?

Almost anything different from your cat’s daily, normal routine can cause them to feel stressed. Common feline stressors include the following:

  • Moving homes, rearranging furniture, or having work done on your home
  • Adding or losing another household pet
  • Strained inter-pet relationships
  • Boredom or frustration
  • Observing feral or stray outdoor cats 
  • Pain
  • Chronic diseases
  • Resource competition with other household pets 
  • Inconsistent daily routines
  • Visitors or parties

How can I help my stressed cat cope?

If your cat exhibits stress signs, your veterinarian should perform a complete physical examination and diagnostic testing to determine whether your whiskered pal has an underlying medical issue. If your veterinarian rules out a medical problem, you should consider the likely cause of your cat’s stress. Did you recently bring home a new pet? Does your cat seem bored or lonely? Tell your veterinarian about recent household changes. They can work with you to help resolve your pet’s stress. Your veterinarian may recommend a trainer or a behaviorist to help your cat cope with their stress. Meanwhile, you should ensure you are meeting your feline friend’s basic needs

  • A safe, secure, elevated resting place
  • Individual resource stations at which each of your household cats has sufficient food and water bowls, litter boxes, scratching posts, and sleeping areas
  • A consistent daily routine that includes play and exercise sessions
  • Positive human interactions

If your cat is exhibiting stress signs, schedule an appointment with your primary care veterinarian who will perform a thorough physical examination and diagnostic testing to rule out an underlying medical condition. Our Southern Arizona Veterinary Specialty & Emergency Center team can help when your cat has a complex medical issue or needs urgent veterinary care. Schedule a visit with any of our specialty services, or call any time your pet is experiencing a veterinary emergency.